The Man Who Wasn’t There

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 73

Photo by Sasha Freemind on UNSPLASH.

When he complained about his advanced age, his friends, the younger ones, liked to comment that age was just a number. It was true, a part of him confessed, but still. And they were always so goddamn earnest that he found it impossible to give in to his temptation to disabuse them of their naivete in the most forceful fashion ever.

Age was a number. But it wasn’t the number that dragged him down so often.

It was the accumulation of experience. Some of it good, but more of it had been neutral or negative. So many times, he’d embarked upon some new enterprise or romantic entanglement only for it to end abruptly or painfully. So much of life, he felt, hadn’t gone ‘his way.’

Once you’d lived enough decades, an inevitable ennui arises in nearly everyone. In some people, it was just an “Oh, isn’t that interesting?” kind of thing. Then they would take extra yoga classes or double down with their positive thinking, and then they were their original optimistic crispy selves again.

But he had never been a glass is half-full kind of guy. And sixty years of pessimism that occasionally liked to dress up as realistic thinking was a lot of neural momentum to overcome.

Neural plasticity was a wonder, but when the mass of networks spanned half a century, things sure didn’t feel plastic anymore.

He’d seen a lot. So much it had rendered him hard to impress.

Years of living thru technological advancements interspersed with periods of bottomless stupidity (2016, anyone?) had irreversibly changed him. It had made him impassive, and while he had idealized, praised the quality of non-reactivity, he was reactive. His on-again, off-again relationship with meditation never gained the momentum he deemed sufficient to release him from reactivity.

He had lived through so much.

In high school, he had taken a vocational electronics course in which he studied vacuum tubes. These memories always make him feel ancient. Prehistoric. Did vacuum tubes still exist anywhere in the modern world?

He remembers the early computers and video games. How clunky the earliest flight simulators had been with their once a second update rate.

Technological advancement has come fast and curious with the widespread proliferation of cheap and powerful semiconductors. So inured had he grown, if Apple or Samsung released a phone that could teleport matter, his only f reaction would likely be an indifferent, “Well, it’s about time.”

Listening to the young people, all of whom seemed so comfortable in this new age, that differed markedly from anything with which he had grown up. It was wearying. He was simultaneously filled with a ‘me too’ longing to dance through this new age of glorious perpetual distractions to an adverse horror to the utter ephemeralness of everything.

He was exhausted. Life wore you out and down., especially if you weren’t careful. You had to be vigilant and not allow moods to fester into something untenable. You had to live with purpose and passion. You had to have ideals. Without those, you ended up where he found himself.

He feels things growing, shifting inside himself. He worries what they might portend. So he writes. He writes in the mornings, afternoon, evenings, and occasionally during the middle of the nights.

He finally sees the truth. There is no resting point. No rest area from where one can sit and be content with what one has achieved. If you want to keep moving, you push back against the tide of momentum that arose when one submitted to foolish laziness, then you moved! If you wanted to eat right, then you ate right. If you wanted to be an X, whatever that might entail, then you did the things that X’s did. Writers wrote, massage therapists massaged, magicians entertained as they performed miracles. Habits were paramount.

On a muggy Saturday, he vows to reset his commitment to habits and to stop looking for that magic sweet spot that didn’t exist (at least not for him) from which he could stop striving and rest easy knowing he had arrived. The day he stopped moving, writing, doing, walking, stretching, becoming was the day he started to die. And while he is depressed, he isn’t to the point of surrendering to entropy. Not yet, he isn’t.

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